Oldtimer's Take: Can Trojans Bounce Back?

Pete Carroll said, "We've got to get the front seven on defense shored up. We have to get moving forward. We can't get stuck." USC's defense has been stuck in neutral for 9 quarters. The longer it stays that way, the tougher it's going to be to get out.

It's not whether you win or lose, but it's how you play the game.

I was there on Nov, 26th 1966 when USC lost to Notre Dame 51-0. My dad and grandfather were there when USC was run over by ND in 1946 and 1947, 26-6 and 38-7. I stayed home with my mom and grandmother in 1947. I was three months old.

I know about the losses to ND, because my dad and grandfather talked about those games after the 51-0 loss to ND in 1966. All three games had a completely different feel than the USC/Oregon game did on Saturday night.

There's a lot of analysis on what happened in the game Saturday night. All day yesterday I was hoping it was really Saturday, and I had just had a nightmare. Scott Schrader and ex-Trojan coach Dave Levy did an excellent breakdown of the game that everyone should read.

I mowed Dave Levy's lawn for years when I was in Junior High and High School. And I think he would tell you how different the 1966 game with ND was than the game with Oregon Saturday night. In 1966 ND looked like an NFL team when they came out onto the field.

USC was overmatched against ND in 1966 and could have kept the score more acceptable, and they tried everything possible to win the game, but made too many mistakes that led to ND scoring 51 points. It was the same way in 1946 and 1947. ND was more loaded than most NFL teams after WWII and USC was just overmatched athletically.

The most disturbing thing about Saturday night's game to me was it wasn't USC turnovers that led to such a lopsided score. What was disturbing was that it was a total beat down administered by the Oregon Ducks. And that the loss followed two straight poor showing by what had been a very good USC defense.

USC in 1966 had just come off a tough loss to UCLA under the leadership of QB Norman Dow. Gary Beban was injured and the Trojans were a big favorite, but lost to the Bruins for the second-year in a row. UCLA was a team the Trojans should have beaten in both 1965 and 1967, so they were down for the 1966 ND game.

Dave Levy and John McKay did a lot of soul searching after the 1966 ND game about changes that needed to be made in the USC football program. Head coach John McKay goes into a detailed discussion of their conversation together in his autobiography.

USC bounced back with a good game in the 1967 Rose Bowl and outplayed Bob Griese and Purdue, only to lose on a last second failed two-point conversion. USC had a month to bounce back from the ND game in 1966. USC now has to get ready by Saturday.

In 1967, OJ Simpson came to USC and the Trojans beat ND in South Bend with their defense picking off seven ND passes. One year can make a huge difference in the maturity and makeup of a team. USC's defense went from giving up 51 points in 1966 to only 7 in 1967. Every year you have a new team.

What was different about the game on Saturday night was how the Trojans lost it. It was also disturbing when put into the context of USC's last three games. How do you explain such a collapse on defense in USC's last 9 quarters of play? I doubt that USC has ever given up that many yards in 9 quarters of play in the history of Trojan football.

In 2005, USC gave up 42 and 41 points in two of its last three games of the season. That had never happened before in the history of USC football. But USC's defense had sustained 12 major injuries during that season and had lost Manuel and Eric Wright before the season started. USC's two starting cornerbacks in 2005 were Justin Wyatt and John Walker, both were converted wide receivers. The Trojans were hurting, so you understood why they had some difficulties that year.

USC did have to replace 8 starters on defense this year. But the defense looked very strong during the spring and all through August. They dominated five opponents, and Notre Dame, up until the final quarter of the game, and since then they have totally collapsed. It's like watching an Indy car leading the 500 and then has a tire blowout and hit the wall. The Trojan defense has broken down. It's like a balloon that's been punctured.

You have to give some credit to Jimmy Clausen, Sean Canfield and Jeremiah Masoli and their respective teams. All three of these QBs and their offenses have played great, and Saturday true freshman QB Matt Barkely and the Trojan offense just could match their execution and intensity.

QB Jeremiah Masoli outplayed Matt Barkley. He ran for over 160 yards and passed for over 220 yards and took the option to a whole new level. Oregon's wide receivers were wide open all night and didn't drop anything. Oregon converted big third down plays over and over all night, and there seemed to be nothing but daylight around them.

One of the most frustrating plays of the night was seeing Masoli scramble away from USC's defensive line and watching the Trojans linebackers back peddling all the way to their own end zone, leaving 50 yards of open field for Masoli to stroll through. The USC defensive line was moved out of position all night by Oregon's offensive line. And the question I kept yelling at my televisions was, "Where were the Trojan linebackers?"

Something is wrong when a QB strolls 48 yards down the middle of the field. Something is wrong when no linebacker is in your top 6 tacklers. Something is wrong when your offense can't score in the last quarter of three straight games. USC's linebackers seemed to have their backs to the ball all night.

Something is wrong when Oregon can run the same power play over and over and USC's front seven has no response. Something is wrong when players are saying, "We couldn't match their intensity." Pete Carroll said yesterday, "We're not going to change our philosophy, we've got to nail down some technique stuff. It's not rocket science. We have to be in the spots we're supposed to be."

That's not easy when you have Marquis Simmons and Shane Horton playing in the secondnd half for injured linebackers. WLB Malcolm Smith is out indefinitely with a crack in his shoulder, Jarvis Jones and Chris Galippo both have neck injuries and all three will have MRIs today. DT Armond Armstead cracked a bone in his wrist and will need a cast. Jones, Galippo and Armstead could still play Saturday against ASU.

Pete Carroll said, "Oregon brought in a lot of things they hadn't run in a long time and it made a difference." Boise State had months to prepare for Oregon, USC had a week. But USC was getting beat at the point of attack for the entire game. Oregon's first kickoff return seemed to set the tone for the entire game. The Trojans simply got whipped.

It is difficult to prepare defenses in college football. USC doesn't practice against the spread all through spring and August. But the USC defense did hold the Oregon spread to 10 points last year and no points for the last 3 1/2 quarters of that game.

I don't think one game up at Oregon is enough reason for USC to change its philosophy. They don't need something different. They need to play better. Barkley missed two passes to Blake Ayles. He could have caught the first. Masoli didn't miss anybody. That's the difference.

There will be some talk this week about changing USC's offensive and defensive philosophies. Dave Levy said in Scott Schrader's column that USC runs a Sunday offense. How long does it take Oregon to prepare for USC's offense? Yet USC could have scored at will if they had executed.

Carroll said, "We've got to get the front seven on defense shored up. We have to get moving forward. We can't get stuck." USC's defense has been stuck in neutral for 9 quarters. The longer it stays that way, the tougher it's going to be to get out.

USC's offense is led by a true freshman at QB. Barkely is a phenom, but he's a true freshman and he's going up against some QBS that are experienced and playing the best football of their lives.

If USC can get healthy for ASU, stay disciplined, stay in their gaps they should be able to best a stumbling ASU offense Saturday. But if they can't fix whatever is broken they could be in trouble in what will be their sixth road game in 9 contests this year.

USC is 6-2 and has played 5 tough games on the road already. The Trojans still have talent, depth and speed. They are the same race car that started the season, but something is broke. For a collapse like this to happen, several things may be broken. It's not a simple as just changing the tires or changing the parts. It's not as simple as players healing up or changing schemes.

Athletes have to become players. It takes both head and heart. USC is at a crossroad road right now. It's a crisis of belief. I still believe in the 2009 Trojans. I'm in! I'm in, just like my dad and grandfathers were in 1946 and 1947, and all three of us were in 1966. Remember USC won a NC in 1967.

Has my belief been shaken? Sure! It's a little more like hope than faith right now. It's a hope that USC football players can become disciplined and stay in their designed areas and use their heads as well as their hearts. It's a hope too, that ASU's offense could be just what USC needs to settle down right now.

ASU, on the other hand may be hoping USC's defense is just what they need right now to get going. The 2009 USC/Oregon game was a real mess. It isn't going to be cleaned up with a week of practice. But let's hope enough gets straightened out to beat ASU on Saturday, and then USC can get back on the right footing with three finishing home games.

The Trojans will look to bounce back with a solid week of practice.

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